This week’s speculation, in the wake of Republic of Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni’s sacking, that Leeds United boss Brian McDermott might be the anointed replacement, could so easily have turned into a lengthy “will he, won’t he” saga. Quite possibly, this might have ended in more grief and disillusionment for Leeds and its fans, who have been through this sort of thing before. What actually happened was that Brian used the earliest possible opportunity, his pre-match press conference ahead of the Bolton fixture this weekend, to confirm his 100% commitment to the Leeds United cause, his appreciation of the relationship he enjoys with the fans and his acute awareness and pride that he’s in charge of one of English football’s true giants. Carlsberg don’t do affirmations of faith, but if they did….
There is absolutely no reason to doubt one iota of McDermott’s sincerity in anything he said at that press conference. He went beyond the strict dictates of frankness by acknowledging that yes, he would love one day to be Ireland manager. He has always, he admitted, regretted his decision to align himself with England as a player. His family connections to the Emerald Isle are strong; you get the distinct impression that, if he were not already committed heart and soul to the restoration of Leeds to the game’s Top table, Brian McDermott would be quite willing, eager and even able to swim the Irish Sea in order to secure the honour of being Republic manager. But Brian is so committed; indeed, heart and soul would seem to be a masterly understatement of the depth of that commitment. This confirmation that he’s at Elland Road to do a job, along with his earlier, only half-joking, thanks to Reading FC for sacking him and thus affording him the chance to reign at Leeds, sends out a massively positive message to all with a love of Yorkshire’s sole giant. At last we have a man who talks the talk, seems equipped to walk the walk, and will not be deflected even by the call of his lifelong ambition. It was a banquet of a press conference for Leeds fans, a veritable feast of reassurance.
But after the feast comes the reckoning – and Brian has not been slow to nail down the advantage his stated position has given him. This is not to say that, Rooney style, he’s seeking further to enhance his own remuneration on the back of turning down overtures from elsewhere. Instead, he’s been swift to speak out in the press and beseech the ongoing support of owners GFH. Brian’s version of putting the squeeze on is strictly altruistic, totally dedicated to securing the tools he needs to tackle the job in hand. He doesn’t want a cushier position, he just wants to be able to look at the possibilities – currently limited to the loan market – and shop around with an unerring eye for a player or two and the enhancement of his squad the only objective in mind.
GFH must be well aware of the extreme impracticality of keeping a want-away manager against his will. Contracts, in those situations, are about as much use as a penalty spot in the Man U 18-yard area. The fact of the matter is that, had McDermott wanted to head off to Ireland to take up any offer made to him, then he would almost certainly have been able to do so. It would simply have been a matter of haggling over compensation, a scenario that’s been played over time and time again as managers and players theoretically tied down to a deal basically proceed to do as they like. That Brian McDermott has chosen to stick to his current task, running the possible risk of losing any chance of fulfilling his heart’s desire in the future, speaks volumes for the man and for his honesty. GFH should be looking at the leader they’ve got at the helm, and asking themselves what possible excuse there could be for failing to stretch a point or two, for failing to make the effort to dig down the back of the settee and find a few bob to fund his recruitment drive. Principles like “shipping one out before you can bring one in” are all very well when you’re talking to an accountant, but not likely to cut much ice with the Leeds support, who see their manager nobly keeping his mind on the job – and who will want to see him given every chance of succeeding.
Brian McDermott has played this very, very well indeed – which is not to say he is being sly or exploitative. He’s simply made his mind up to succeed at Leeds, and has made his position clear: that he expects everybody to pull together in achieving that end. Strong as his position at Elland Road may have been a week ago, it is now very much stronger; the Leeds owners would do well to respect that, respect their manager’s professional judgement – and dig deep for victory.